Within 15 minutes of landing at Johannesburg Airport in South Africa someone tried to scam me. As usual, I headed directly to the ATM machine to get local currency with my bank card. Upon completing my transaction, a woman approached me, saying she was having trouble getting the ATM to take her card and asking me to show her how I got mine to work. This was an elaborate ruse, complete with much rubbing of the magnetic strip on her card against her pants to clean it, etc. It was obvious to me that I was being played. To begin with, she was putting the card in the machine backwards. They attempt to get you to demonstrate how it is done with your card, then deftly swap the cards. I pointed out that she needed to turn the card around. She continued to make much ado about the situation, rubbing the magnetic strip again.
By that point it was amusing because the whole thing was so lame, so I played along until she finally turned the card around. I then walked to the middle of the corridor, crossed my arms and looked directly at her. Each time she checked over her shoulder to see if I had left I looked her directly in the eye. I had no intention of leaving until she actually took some money out. From this vantage point I could see she had an accomplice – a man across the corridor. She finally walked away with a single bill in her hand. I reported her to the police but they had no interest in doing anything about it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in South Africa. The country is crime-ridden and corrupt beyond belief. I spoke to many local people who lamented the situation but have no idea how to change it. Even the taxi driver who took me to the airport in Cape Town tried to scam me with a ridiculous story about how he forgot to turn on the meter so he would ONLY charge me a flat rate of 180 Rand, which is cheaper than any of the other taxi companies, blah, blah, blah. I told him to put the meter on. It cost 150 Rand on the meter and I paid with a 200 Rand bill, for which he claimed to have no change. Amazing.
In the Cape Town airport, one of the national air carriers, Nationwide Airlines, was repeatedly apologizing over the loudspeakers for any inconvenience their ‘total system failure’ had caused with bookings or lost luggage.
The signs over every entry door at the Johannesburg Airport state ‘Enter at your own risk.’
It is too dangerous to walk alone at night in either town and even in the daytime it is wise to keep your antennae up. On my first morning in Cape Town I was waiting outside the hotel for a tour bus to pick me up when an obviously homeless man, his hoodie pulled up and draped over his eyes, shuffled by me. With the entire wide sidewalk at his disposal he managed to brush up against me. I watched him walk a block then come back toward me, so I put my backpack to the wall as he sullenly asked me for money. The government says unemployment is 25% but the locals all told me it was closer to 40%. Carjackings are normal occurrences and they don’t just drag you out of the car, they kill you and then drag you out of the car.
All this is a terrible shame, because Cape Town is a lovely city in a gorgeous location, set amidst towering granite and sandstone cliffs on one side and a beautiful bowl harbor on the other. And while I wouldn’t want to go back any time soon, I did enjoy the sights in Cape Town and on the peninsula leading down to the Cape Of Good Hope, so I thought I’d share a few photos:
9 thoughts on “South Africa – Not My Cup Of Tea”
Please come visit us again! I’ll look after you and make sure you are safe and happy and that nothing gets in the way of you being able to just enjoy every second of this incredibly beautiful country which has so much to offer.
If I ever return, I will definitely look you up, Jeanne! Thank you so much for the kind offer.
Barbara, I can see this blog post goes back quite a few years, but just want to say how very sorry I am to hear of your bad experiences in SA, our county of birth, a country we love. Sadly, crime is still a huge problem a problem we pray will one day be eradicated.
Apart from the crime South Africa is just so beautiful, so very diverse, so full of amazing places to explore, I do hope you will be back one day.
PS on a recent trip to Italy, my husband had his wallet stolen in Venice (first time in our lives either was pickpocketed!!) and scammed by a taxi driver…….
Hi Meryl: I have to agree that South Africa is exquisitely beautiful. I especially enjoyed traveling to the South Cape. It’s so sad to hear that crime is still an issue, but I’m sure that will improve with time. One of these days, I’ll be back…
Hi Barbara, I know that this blog post is more than a couple of years old now but I felt that I really needed to comment on it any ways.
Firstly on behalf of all South Africans I am truly sorry that you had to experience some of the darker sides of South Africa on your visit here. Crime is indeed a problem here, however, crime is a possibility where ever our travels may lead us to.
The pictures you have posted of my home town – Cape Town – are lovely. I get to experience the beauty every single day. What a blessing. It looks like you had a great time on your tours. Do you perhaps think it would have been better to have placed more focus on the good experiences you had in the country instead of just highlighting the negative which could have happened just about anywhere?
I am not denying the fact that South Africa is crime ridden, I am just expressing the fact that there is more to South Africa than the high crime rate and corruption. We’re a developing nation and there are so many South Africans working very hard to keep the tourism industry going here. For many it is their only source of income. Posts such as this have lasting effects on the industry, far beyond a disgruntled tourists visit. As a travel blogger you have the opportunity to build into the economy of the countries you visit. All I ask is that you take that into consideration when expressing your opinions. You surely do have a right to your opinion, I am not disputing that. So please don’t get me wrong on that.
I hope that you will overcome your fear and give South Africa another chance. It has been a few years since your last visit and there has been many exciting changes and additions since the Soccer World Cup was held here in 2010.
Hi Hadlay: I really appreciate your thoughtful response. I did, in fact, think Cape Ton was an absolutely gorgeous city and walked around it extensively in the daylight. It was when dusk fell that I became uncomfortable walking the streets alone. One of these days I will get back to South Africa, as there are many parts I have not yet seen, especially since you remarked on the changes that have occurred since the World Cup.
Well said Hadlay!
I couldn’t agree more. From the photo’s it appears that Barbara saw quite a bit of the Cape, yet was unable to share one good experience from any of it.
As they say, ‘Africa isn’t for sissies’ so maybe a more robust traveller is required.
I appreciate you being so polite. I don’t feel very polite after reading this article, so I’ll sign off now before I say what I really think.
I think that there are many different area of the South Africa that can give some important information and tips to you.
Hi Barbara, I hope you are very, very careful. I look forward to seeing you back in Sarasota. You will have lots of stories to tell me. See you soon! Rose